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UDHR: The 75th Anniversary Oversight in Turkey

“Better late than never,” they say. In Africa, we have a saying that’s even more forgiving: “It is never too late,” and the most lenient: “There is no hurry…” As I sit behind my desk this 12th of December 2023, thoughts linger on the recent Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) anniversary. Two days ago, the global community commemorated the 75th anniversary of this post-World War II milestone, which spotlights dignity, freedom, and justice for all.

The New Jersey-based Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) held a thematic convention on human rights to coincide with this year’s milestone. But the burning question remains: was this anniversary a beacon of remembrance or, to some extent, a lost cause? Beyond the commemoration, was there truly anything to celebrate?

Global hotspots like Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria dominate our screens, including mine. The involvement of Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party, with support from their Nationalist Party (MHP) allies, is evident to those who delve deeper than the evening news. In light of this, the most fitting tribute would be for each country to evaluate its domestic human rights record and its place on the global stage. This is where the significance of AST’s event comes into focus.

Dubbed the “Annual Freedom Convention – Turkey 2023,” the gathering aimed to dissect Turkey’s pressing issues, such as democratic backsliding, the collapse of the rule of law, the misuse of anti-terrorism laws, curtailed freedom of expression, and the decline in human rights. The goal was to scrutinize the dangerous outcomes of democratic regression and transnational repression on freedoms and abuses of law, including minority and gender rights, foreign policy, and legal inequities.

The convention also stressed the importance of international bodies in combatting human rights abuses, highlighting the role of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and UN mechanisms, and underscoring the duties of international organizations and civil societies in preventing atrocities like torture, arbitrary detention, and media suppression.

I wouldn’t envy UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. His office delivered a six-point message, three of which resonate with the AST’s focus on Turkey. These messages reiterate that abandoning humanity’s values endangers everyone and that addressing human rights is foundational to all solutions. They emphasize the necessity of standing up for our rights and the rights of others and advocate for an economy that champions human rights and benefits all.

Guterres must have had mixed feelings following President Erdogan’s blunt condemnation of the UN Security Council as an ‘Israel protection council.’ What reception could Guterres expect for his calls for economic reform amidst Erdogan’s family engaging in significant fuel trade with Israel, and Erdogan’s stark warning to Netanyahu regarding Hamas members in Turkey?

Guterres stressed the need to renew the social contract between governments and their citizens to restore trust and foster a united vision of human rights toward just and sustainable development. Yet, the situation in Turkey raises doubts about the feasibility of this ideal.

Journalist Tarik Toros brought attention to a judicial conflict escalating in Turkey through the Politurco platform. He highlighted an outrageous scenario where the Court of Cassation’s 3rd Penal Chamber defied the Constitutional Court, asserting its supremacy and even filing a criminal complaint against its members. Such acts reflect a judiciary in disarray, influenced by a power beyond the constitution—likely the presidential office itself.

If justice and human rights were music in Turkey, the term ‘cacophony’ would be an understatement. The question arises: why does the judiciary hesitate to follow the Constitutional Court’s directives? The answer might lie in the underlying influence of the executive branch over the judiciary, leading to democratic decline, rule of law collapse, and the erosion of human, minority, and gender rights.

The latest report from the Association of Cross Border Jurists (CBJ) on the Turkish government describes the ‘Association for Unity in Judiciary’ as a shadow over Turkey’s legal system. Authored by dismissed prosecutors Mehmet Bakır Özkan and Dr. Hasan Dursun, it outlines the step-by-step politicization of the judiciary, unprecedented under the AKP administration.

The Freedom Convention Turkey 2023, in collaboration with the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg, expanded the discourse on Turkey’s complex challenges, offering strategies to engage the global human rights community and advocate for those oppressed in Turkey.

Panels discussed the judicial system’s degradation and the broad application of anti-terror laws. The significant role of the ECHR in addressing rights violations was highlighted, with the Yalcinkaya ruling exemplifying a beacon of hope for justice.

Human rights concerns in Turkey are manifold, including the persecution of groups unconnected to the coup, violence against female journalists, stigmatization of individuals as ‘terrorists,’ and the overly broad definition of anti-terrorism laws. Gender-based violence, particularly against marginalized women, and Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy exacerbate these issues.

Despite Turkey’s ratification of the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, reports indicate an increase in torture since the failed coup in July 2016. Thus, as the UDHR turns 75, its principles of dignity, freedom, and justice remain elusive for many, especially in Turkey, where this year’s celebrations feel meaningless amidst a human rights situation that demands urgent international attention and intervention.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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